How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

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Benjamin Kantor
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How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Benjamin Kantor » January 2nd, 2020, 6:14 am

Many years ago someone at a Biblical Language Center Greek workshop asked this question:
If the Greek diphthong represented by αι had already shifted to a monophthong of the [ε] or [e̞] quality by the Koine period (no longer historical *[ai]), does that mean that Hebrew proper names (PNs) like Ἰεσσαί 'Jesse' would have been pronounced as [iεˈsε] (note αι as [ε]) when Koine Greek speakers read the New Testament?
I didn't remember (or hear) the answer at the time, but since I was about to record the Gospel of Matthew in Koine pronunciation (with the genealogies of course where this is important) I decided to look into this. I think we actually do have evidence to conclude that those highly knowledgeable scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge would have pronounced a word like χαίρειν as [ˈxεrin] but a name like Ιεσσαι as [iε(s)ˈai].

I lay out the evidence here:

https://www.koinegreek.com/post/how-was ... -testament

I'd appreciate any feedback!
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Brian Gould
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Brian Gould » January 2nd, 2020, 9:31 pm

Your sources seem to be conceding that only a small minority of scribes, largely restricted to those who knew Hebrew or Aramaic, or both, in addition to Greek, ever used the alternative spellings corresponding to αϊ. If that is the case, surely the corollary is that |ε| had by then become the standard pronunciation throughout the broader Hellenistic world, even in the case of OT names, and would therefore be the more suitable pronunciation to adopt for your planned recording?
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MAubrey
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by MAubrey » January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm

Brian Gould wrote:
January 2nd, 2020, 9:31 pm
Your sources seem to be conceding that only a small minority of scribes, largely restricted to those who knew Hebrew or Aramaic, or both, in addition to Greek, ever used the alternative spellings corresponding to αϊ. If that is the case, surely the corollary is that |ε| had by then become the standard pronunciation throughout the broader Hellenistic world, even in the case of OT names, and would therefore be the more suitable pronunciation to adopt for your planned recording?
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
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Brian Gould
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Brian Gould » January 3rd, 2020, 7:50 pm

MAubrey wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
Yes, I think we are in agreement on the basic criterion, which boils down to a question of statistics. If a comparison of the different manuscripts leads to the conclusion that one pronunciation was statistically dominant, with only a small minority using the other pronunciation, then I would say go with the larger language community. Although Benjamin’s link doesn’t quote any statistics, this sentence gave me the impression—rightly or wrongly—that the diphthongal pronunciation |aï| was by no means in widespread use:

The evidence of early LXX and NT manuscripts suggests that this phenomenon was preserved to a degree—perhaps only among highly educated scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge—in the manuscript tradition all the way up into the Byzantine period. On the other hand, Greek speakers without such knowledge would be prone to pronounce αι in Semitic names just like everywhere else.
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MAubrey
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by MAubrey » January 10th, 2020, 9:49 pm

Brian Gould wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 7:50 pm
MAubrey wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
Yes, I think we are in agreement on the basic criterion, which boils down to a question of statistics. If a comparison of the different manuscripts leads to the conclusion that one pronunciation was statistically dominant, with only a small minority using the other pronunciation, then I would say go with the larger language community. Although Benjamin’s link doesn’t quote any statistics, this sentence gave me the impression—rightly or wrongly—that the diphthongal pronunciation |aï| was by no means in widespread use:

The evidence of early LXX and NT manuscripts suggests that this phenomenon was preserved to a degree—perhaps only among highly educated scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge—in the manuscript tradition all the way up into the Byzantine period. On the other hand, Greek speakers without such knowledge would be prone to pronounce αι in Semitic names just like everywhere else.
It isn't entirely clear to me that we are in agreement on the basic criterion.
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Benjamin Kantor
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Benjamin Kantor » January 21st, 2020, 9:17 am

Brian Gould wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 7:50 pm
MAubrey wrote:
January 3rd, 2020, 4:40 pm
That depends. If the larger language community is using manuscripts with spelling such as these that overtly distinguish between the two pronunciations, then those communities would have also continued pronouncing Hebrew names as [ai] rather than [ε]. Conversely if the community is not using such manuscripts, then the pronunciation would have likely shifted to the standard [ε].
Yes, I think we are in agreement on the basic criterion, which boils down to a question of statistics. If a comparison of the different manuscripts leads to the conclusion that one pronunciation was statistically dominant, with only a small minority using the other pronunciation, then I would say go with the larger language community. Although Benjamin’s link doesn’t quote any statistics, this sentence gave me the impression—rightly or wrongly—that the diphthongal pronunciation |aï| was by no means in widespread use:

The evidence of early LXX and NT manuscripts suggests that this phenomenon was preserved to a degree—perhaps only among highly educated scribes and/or those with Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge—in the manuscript tradition all the way up into the Byzantine period. On the other hand, Greek speakers without such knowledge would be prone to pronounce αι in Semitic names just like everywhere else.
These are good questions. Unfortunately, I don't think we have enough evidence to come to any sort of statistical conclusions. We would want hundreds of instances of these names attested in manuscripts from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods to get an idea of how common each pronunciation was at each stage. Unfortunately, we have a small small fraction of what would be necessary to make any such claims in terms of the LXX/NT manuscript tradition.

What we can say is as follows:

1) Already by the Early Roman period in Palestine (37 BCE-135 CE), Greek αι represented /ε(ː)/. Length was probably lost by the Late Roman period (135-324 CE) if not earlier. It is possible, however, that the change of αι = /ai/ → /ε(ː)/ had not happened for the earliest books of the Septuagint (e.g., Pentateuch).

2) Hebrew/Aramaic speakers in the Roman period would generally have pronounced -αι in Semitic names like -αϊ in Greek rather than like typical αι = /ε/.

3) To some degree, the Hebrew/Aramaic pronunciation of names with -αι = /ai/ seems to have been preserved in the Greek manuscript tradition of the LXX/NT even into the Byzantine period.


However, your question really seems to be wanting more specificity to the to some degree part in (3). As you mention, we really would need better statistics for that and I just don't think we have enough early manuscripts. If we put Hebrew/Aramaic knowledge on the side, the degree to which these pronunciations would have been preserved purely in the scribal tradition is not clear. We can only do our best to speculate at this point (which is what my final section of the post was trying to do).
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RandallButh
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by RandallButh » January 22nd, 2020, 8:18 am

Just a side question, where was Palestine in 37BCE--135CE? The NT knew Ἰουδαία and Matthew knew "γη Ισραηλ" 2.20-21 and Caesar knew Gaul, but I only know "Palestine" and "France" from modern maps.

Nevertheless back to topic, as to pronunciation of Greek, we know how αι was pronounced around the Mediterranean by Greek speakers [=ε], but people in language communities are capable of preserving foreign pronunciations if they hear them frequently enough.
So my advice to readers today is do what you want. what? Both are correct? Why not?

And if the text does not use αϊ then one would have a right either to read the Greek [ε] (correct according to the Greek ByzT and NA) or else substitute something more authentic, as people might do optionally while reading foreign names in Time magazine.
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Barry Hofstetter
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Barry Hofstetter » January 22nd, 2020, 9:53 am

RandallButh wrote:
January 22nd, 2020, 8:18 am
Just a side question, where was Palestine in 37BCE--135CE? The NT knew Ἰουδαία and Matthew knew "γη Ισραηλ" 2.20-21 and Caesar knew Gaul, but I only know "Palestine" and "France" from modern maps.
The Romans called the area Syria Palaestina, a formal designation after the Bar Kochba rebellion, and simply part of the province of Syria prior to that.
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N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Brian Gould
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by Brian Gould » January 22nd, 2020, 10:08 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
January 22nd, 2020, 9:53 am
The Romans called the area Syria Palaestina, a formal designation after the Bar Kochba rebellion, and simply part of the province of Syria prior to that.
Josephus is generally said to be earliest author to use the name, as here (Ant. 1:136):
https://archive.org/details/L242Josephu ... 3/page/n89
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RandallButh
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Re: How was αι in Hebrew PNs like Ιεσσαι read by Koine Greek speakers in early MSS of the New Testament?

Post by RandallButh » January 22nd, 2020, 10:24 am

Barry Hofstetter wrote:
January 22nd, 2020, 9:53 am
RandallButh wrote:
January 22nd, 2020, 8:18 am
Just a side question, where was Palestine in 37BCE--135CE? The NT knew Ἰουδαία and Matthew knew "γη Ισραηλ" 2.20-21 and Caesar knew Gaul, but I only know "Palestine" and "France" from modern maps.
The Romans called the area Syria Palaestina, a formal designation after the Bar Kochba rebellion, and simply part of the province of Syria prior to that.
Yes about Syria Palaestina after 135CE, but to correct a point, Ἰουδαία was a Roman province from 6-70 CE (even if small and politically minor league).
And interestingly, the GNT gets this right throughout, being neither anachronistic nor "katachronistic."
(This note was a simple aside. If further discussion is desirable it should probably be a separate thread.)
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